By Drew Baumgartner and Michael DeLaney
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.
Drew: Joseph Stalin likely never uttered this phrase, but while its provenance may be dubious, it’s hard to argue with its sentiment. We’ve all experienced this personally; individual deaths carry with them the nuance and beauty of the decedent’s death in a way that dozens of deaths simply can’t. Each of those deaths are felt singularly by the loved ones they affect, to be sure, but the rest of us can’t really fit the sum of those tragedies into our brain. They become, for lack of a better term, a statistic. This is why war stories are so rare in superhero comics — the higher death count doesn’t necessarily equal higher emotional stakes, so killing swaths of civilians runs the risk of making any one of those deaths lose whatever oomph it might have on its own. Writer Tom King seems keenly aware of how easy it would be for the victims of “The War of Jokes and Riddles” to become statistics, taking pains to emphasize just how deeply Batman feels each of those deaths.
And there sure are a lot of deaths. But again, this issue isn’t about statistics, so each of those deaths is accompanied by some heartbreakingly mundane biographical info about the victims. The majority of the victims in this issue are members of Carmine Falcone’s criminal organization, which found itself in the crossfire between Joker and the Riddler, but they’re far from the only ones. Curiously, some of the other deaths can’t be as easily explained. Check out the multiple homicide that opens the issue:
Unlike the cannon fodder of Falcone’s goons, there’s no clear motivation to these murders. Perhaps Joker is hoping to enact some kind of meta attack on Riddler, killing residents of the street named after his creator, Dick Sprang, or perhaps he picked them because he’s still trying to find his sense of humor and, as the taxi driver points out, “Sixty-nine Dick Sprang Ave” is kind of a funny address, but any direct connection to his war with the Riddler is a mystery.
(I’ll admit, that mystery had me digging obsessively for clues, thinking that there might be some valuable nuggets embedded in $37.73, the cab fare, or 811, the number on the taxi, but the closest I can come is that neither are “happy numbers.”)
In any case, there’s a brutal joylessness in Joker’s actions here. He’s utterly disinterested in the observation about the address (however pedestrian the joke may be), and he doesn’t seem to take any pleasure in killing the cab driver, who we learn died hours later from apparent exposure to joker toxin. Even the pacing of the murders — emphasized by Batman’s mentioning of the three kids followed by a rapid-fire “BANG BANG BANG” — feels almost clinical. He’s still a psychopath, but he’s far from the madcap maniac we know so well.
Much of the rest of the issue focuses more closely on Joker’s attempt on Riddler’s life via the Falcone organization (and the subsequent fallout), but I’m most intrigued at the victims whose deaths we never see. Bruce’s guilt over these deaths is made explicit by artist Mikel Janín, who projects the faces of the dead behind him, suggesting that they remain in the back of his mind as he tells this story.
It’s a powerful image (undermined perhaps a bit by the return of King’s pet “Kite Man!” joke), but I suppose I’d like a bit more information as to how and why these people became casualties of this war. That is, while I understand how criminals like Falcone’s men or a crooked plastic surgeon might fit into this narrative, I’m less certain on how all of these civilians got involved. Bruce’s narration suggests that they were somehow “stuck between the monsters,” but since we never get a street-level view of this war (once again summarized in stunning but narratively static splashes by Janín), it’s hard to imagine what this war actually looks like. Is it actual firefights on the street, and these folks were simply caught in the literal crossfire, or are these mostly victims of the kind of random murders we saw Joker perpetrating at the start of the issue? It’s clear King wants these victims to be more than statistics, but we don’t quite have enough context to parse their deaths into separate tragedies.
Wow, Michael, I really didn’t mean to fixate on those two moments — there’s so much to talk about in this issue — but I seem to have already burned through my word count. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how effectively the weight of those deaths comes across, but I can’t imagine you and I could write this piece without acknowledging that homage to the “Mirror!” scene from Tim Burton’s Batman. I definitely chuckled at the recognition, but I wonder if there’s more to glean from putting the Riddler in scene we so strongly associate with the Joker.
Michael: Full disclosure: I’m not crazy about Tim Burton’s Batman, but let’s see if I can divine anything from that famous mirror scene that Batman 26 homages. In 1989’s Batman, Jack Napier asks for the mirror to see the results of his mob doctored plastic surgery. Jack takes a look at himself in the mirror and begins to go mad with laughter. I’d say that this moment — not when he falls in the vat of acid — is when Jack becomes The Joker.
The mirror scene in Batman 26 provides a similar “delayed rebirth” for The Riddler. It’s clear that Tom King’s Riddler is a different, more violent Riddler than previous incarnations. In the first chapter of “The War of Jokes and Riddles”, he stabs a police officer to death — more brutal than anything we’ve seen from him before. While Batman 25 marks the introduction of this new, dangerous Riddler, it could be said that this “rebirth” doesn’t take place until he sees his gunshot scar and carves a question mark onto his chest.
What is this a rebirth of though? Riddler, of course, speaks in riddles. As he carves out his homemade question mark tattoo, Riddler asks the (dead) doctor a series of riddles that all have the answer “nothing.” Is the “nothing” what Riddler is feeling? The impetus of this “War of Jokes and Riddles” is basically Riddler and Joker wanting to feel something again. They no longer get joy out of their respective “gimmicks” because of their foil, Batman. It’s probably not that coincidental then that Riddler is trying to feel something and he cuts himself.
The war between Riddler and Joker is a blend of the two villains’ egotism, nihilism and depression. Both of them want to be the one to kill Batman and they don’t really care who gets in the way of their self-destructive path. I think that Riddler (a literal enigma) is a more difficult character to write than Joker, which actually makes it harder to decipher his feelings. What’s odd is that Tom King and Mikel Janín make The Joker — the poster boy for comic book homicidal maniacs — the relatable one.
No longer able to laugh at existence, The Joker has been looking for ways to get him to crack a smile. Here Janín gives us the very striking sequence of Joker practicing his smile in the mirror. In one panel he uses his hands to stretch his face — quite literally forcing a smile. The root of all of this may be a fantastical villain’s desire to kill a hero but I found this scene to be a very powerful demonstration of depression.
I believe that we can all relate to the feeling of “putting on a smile” on days when we’d rather tell everyone around us to leave us alone and go to hell. Janín’s portrayal of the “sad clown Joker” is very reminiscent to the one presented in The Killing Joke, which I’m sure is no mistake. Besides the time he spends practicing a smile in the mirror, we have yet to see Joker produce a genuine smile. I’m curious to see the moment in this arc where King sees fit to have The Clown Prince of Crime smile — if at all.
I’m equally curious to how Gotham’s villains decide to fall in line in the Riddler or Joker camps. King and Janín spend a decent amount of time focused on Riddler’s persuasion of Poison Ivy and I’d like to see similar “origins” for other Arkham Asylum alumni.
Janín lays out the Riddler and Joker teams on two separate double page spreads, so we know who’s on what team but we have yet to know why. A lot of these criminals can be easily bought — Deathstroke, Deadshot, Killer Croc — but I think that certain characters like Two-Face would rather run things themselves.
Janín’s “team pages” implies that all of these Batman villains have already established themselves in Gotham, but notice that The Penguin is not among them. Batman 26 introduces Oswald Cobblepot as a Falcone errand boy until Joker promotes him to Ambassador to The Clown Prince. It’s possible that this story will serve as a soft reboot for The Penguin, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a major player in Riddler and Joker’s war.
King has pitched “The War of Jokes and Riddles” as a sin that Batman has never confessed to anyone until now. I like that King places focus on Batman’s obsessive reverence to the victims of this war, remembering who they were and who they loved. However I’m assuming that Batman’s “sin” has to be something greater than that, right? Either way, do we think that Batman keeps a running tally of all of the people that have died as a result of his enemies’ machinations? That’s gotta be multiple encyclopedia volumes, right?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?
There have been a lot of in-universe homages to important Batman writers/artists over the years, but someone giggling about “Dick Sprang” might be my favorite.
Drew, I massively disagree with the idea that superhero comics avoid war stories because the use of high death counts creates artificial emotional stakes. You are right that a single death is often more powerful than killing a swaths of civilians, but superheroes stories are the exact reason that Blockbusters are blighted with the ‘Giant Beam of Light to the Sky’ climaxes, and regardless of the quality of the individual movies, those giant beams of light always create a very artificial set of stakes. Cities are destroyed, civilians die and that’s the superhero way. Even great superhero stories have fallen for this. In the start of Hickman’s Avengers run, Ex Nihili’s bomb slaughtered millions of people, millions that I don’t believe got resurrected as part of his ‘Everyone Lives’ ending. Snyder’s Endgame had the stakes be every life in Gotham, and left hundreds, possibly thousands, with permanent mental scarring, and the only ones anyone cares about are Duke’s parents. Artificial stakes are a big part of how superhero comics work. In that respect, they are no different to war stories.
The difference is aesthetic. Superhero stories are about ubermensches, about walking metaphors. People who, by virtue of being a successful superhero, act on a level of mortality ordinary people can’t reach. Even nonpowered heroes like Batman are essentially demigods. Meanwhile, a war story is all about mortality. They are all about how ultimately mortal the fighters are. Death isn’t a rare, dramatic occurrence, but an ordinary occurrence. That is the aesthetic difference.
Certainly not the artificial stakes of a high body count
Michael, I completely agree with you about not being crazy about Tim Burton’s Batman (but Batman Returns is one of the best superhero movies of all time). The 1989 Batman feels like a prototype, a movie that played an important role in the development of superhero movies. But as soon as Sam Raimi came along and did everything it was trying to do perfectly in Spider-Man, age caught up with it. And with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as well as the half of Wonder Woman that was legitimately great), it starts to feel like an artefact. Movies like Batman Returns or Batman and Robin, however, still work fantastically. In part because they do exactly what they want to do, and in part because they are such unique products that no amount of evolution can make them feel redundant (Batman Forever was a disaster from the beginning, and is just as bad as it always was).
Ignoring Batman v Superman, which I’ve see as a Superman movie, Batman Forever is the clear worst. But I think Batman (1989) is the second worst. It has some great moments, but none big enough to give the movie the identity it really needs, and the Joker just doesn’t work. The choice to focus on Jack Napier so much means that the Joker doesn’t feel like a transformation as it does the addition of some gimmicks (hell, the emotional stakes are all built around the Joker’s actions as Jack Napier), made worse by the fact that the Joker lacks any true sense of motivation except ‘what the plot requires’. He isn’t a coherent villain, because the story only ever requires him to go to a location and do Jokery things. Basically, the only thing that makes me think it isn’t the second worst is on how generous I am being on Batman (1966). The 1966 movie is proof that stretching an episode of TV to movie length kills the pacing and turns a comedic masterpiece into a repetitive slog, but it also has some of the all time greatest gags in the entire series.
Here’s the thing I don’t get about what I’ve seen from this story? How can the Joker not laugh, when he has seen the current Riddler? What can be a bigger joke than this Riddler?
The stuff I’ve seen really makes you appreciate how great Snyder’s writing was. Snyder was the first to truly commit to making the Riddler murderous. Yet he kept the focus on Riddler’s intelligence, his games, his riddles. Even as he changed what was a pretty fundamental element of the Riddler, he committed to everything else, it worked perfectly. Of course the Riddler would threaten to kill someone by crushing him with a giant weight the Riddler is lifting with an ingenious use of pulleys.
Now, his riddles are ‘I’m going to kill you, Joker. Then I’m going to laugh. Ha Ha Ha’. Isn’t the point of this story that Riddler and Joker are supposed to be trying to get their mojos back? Isn’t the point that this is a war of Jokes and RIDDLES? Why can’t Riddler pose his threat as a question, then? King seems to have over motivated the Riddler to such an extent that the Riddler is unmoored from the central idea driving this arc and is now a completely different, completely inappropriate character. Add to that the edgy, try hard question mark scar, and the Riddler’s a joke.
Hell, every time I’ve seen something from this issue, all you can do is laugh. They’ve changed Penguin’s backstory from ‘fought a nasty gang war, proving himself to be bad enough and nasty enough to depose Falcone’ to ‘the Joker gave it to him’. Because who needs agency in their backstory? Why give Penguin a backstory that proves exactly why he is a threat and deserves to be treated as a major Batman villain, when someone else can just give him everything instead?
And yeah, that final page has got to be the most inappropriately hilarious page of the year. A disaster
And the sad thing is, other than Deathstroke, DC”s sole competently written book, this really seems to be the best that DC can release. At least this has something that stands out. At least this tries to be something. DC is so, so fucked at the moment
I mean, there’s a big difference between “superhero movies” and “superhero comics,” and I’m not sure how the ending of Man of Steel or whatever has any bearing on what comics do (or do well). Even there, the difference between superhero movies that have ‘Giant Beam of Light to the Sky’ endings and those that don’t hews pretty close to the difference between bad and good superhero movies. The Dark Knight grounded its stakes in very human terms. The Dark Knight Rises had a really big bomb go off in the end.
And I’m not saying that war stories aren’t done, or that they can’t be done well, but they are generally less popular/effective than stories with more personal stakes. In the past year, I can only think of Black Panther and Secret Empire doing anything I would describe as a “war story,” and to wildly different results. Secret Empire has managed to keep the stakes feeling very high, even as I couldn’t care less about the civilian casualty count, where Black Panther never managed to make it feel like there were any stakes at all. I’m sure I’m forgetting some other examples, but I think the fact that there are relatively few (and even fewer successful) war stories in superhero comics speaks to my point. It can be done — it might even be tempting to do it — but it is difficult to do, and is rarely done well.
Yeah, but Superhero movies inherited the artificial stakes from superhero comics. They created the glowing column of light because they wanted comics’ liberal use of disaster to create artificial stakes. That’s why I brought up Hickman’s Avengers and Snyder’s Batman, great stories that also suffered from the superhero affliction to create artificial stakes alongside their already strong emotional stakes (and I think the line between Giant Beam and good and bad is much less clear than you say it is. Avengers is certainly one of the best superhero movies, and it created the trope. And Big Hero 6 is another advantage of a good superhero movie that uses that same trope. Spider-Man 2 does something really similar, placing the entire New York at risk. They are great, despite the meaningless, artificial stakes. Meanwhile, Spider-Man Homecoming does a fantastic job with making sure the stakes aren’t artificial, yet is on the weaker end of the MCU scale.
Many great superhero stories create artificial stakes to go alongside their real, emotional stakes, and many superhero movies aren’t as good as they should be despite keeping their stakes real.
My point is that while you are right that war stories are not a popular genre for superhero stories, the reason isn’t because of the use of artificial stakes, but of aesthetic differences. Annihilation is probably the only true war story I can think of, though Secret Empire is close (and that certainly has artificial stakes. It bombed Las Vegas. The fact that so much of the rest of the stakes is so real doesn’t change the fact that bombing Las Vegas is a classic way to artificially increase stakes. Only nameless extras and a meaningless location are affected).
To have a superhero story people remember and care about, you need strong emotional stakes. But that doesn’t mean that superhero stories don’t ALSO add lots of artificial stakes. Hickman and Snyder had great success with brilliant runs with strong emotional stakes, that also had boatloads of artificial stakes that didn’t really matter. Both can be true.
Which is why the reason war stories are unpopular is ultimately aesthetic. Superhero stories could do it, but it is a fundamentally different aesthetic. I think it is very fair to say, for example, that Secret Empire has completely changed the aesthetic of the Marvel Universe in a way that isn’t sustainable. That’s the whole point of Secret Empire
Do you think Forever is actually worse than Batman And Robin? I think Batman and Robin, batman 66, or lego batman is the worst. The Dark Knight, Mask of the Phantasm, and BvS (even though its a superman film) are the best, I think. Anyways, I wish more attention was given to the penguin, and also Dc has other great books such as Superman and All star Batman. i thought this issue was great one of the best of his run, finally King nailed Batman’s characterization and psychology as a detective who wants to save every single life.
It’s a testament to how many different, equally valid interpretations of Batman there are that we can all disagree about what the best/worst Batman movies are.
Also, just a little bit mind boggling how many damn Batman movies there are: ’66, ’89, Returns, Phantasm, Forever, & Robin, Begins, DK, DKR, BvS and Lego. 11? The Batman will make an even dozen theatrically released flicks!
I suppose those early serials would have been theatrically released, but in a system so different from today that it’s probably best not to count them.
We’ve reached the point in Batman films that the comics got to years ago — a billion different interpretations of the character that don’t really coexist all that well, yet are all valid takes on the concept. I feel like Batman is the only hero you could really do this to and work (even if each individual take itself isn’t always successful), at least in film. People don’t want their Spider-Man to change, and while they DO seem to want Superman to change, recent films seem to be trying to move him away from the core of the character in a way most of Batman’s movies haven’t (I have major issues with Batman killing in both BvS and the Burton films, but he’s still recognizably Batman in a way the Snyder-verse Superman isn’t, and I say that as a moviegoer who was actually enjoying Man of Steel — as a mindless action/effects flick if nothing else — until the neck snap)
I don’t know if I can fully rate the movies, as I’ve never seen 89 all the way through (I’ve seen most of it, but often in snippets and out of order) and haven’t seen Forever and & Robin since I was a kid. I also have a hard time rating Lego Batman, & Robin, and 66 (and to a lesser extent Forever) on the same scale as the other movies because they’re trying to do entirely different things. Lego Batman is easily my favorite of that category, though (although 66 had the biggest impact on me). And I genuinely love Batman Returns — not a great Batman movie, but a fantastic Burton movie and easily the best of the 80s/90s quadrilogy. Dark Knight is probably the best legit film of the entire group (and I think it’s fantastic), but Mask of the Phantasm is the closest to what I want my Batman movies to be.
Batman vs. Superman isn’t just my least favorite movie in EITHER franchise (although I’ll mention that I don’t think I’ve seen Superman 3 all the way through, and haven’t seen A Quest for Peace since I was a child), but one of my least favorite movies I’ve ever seen in theaters, or perhaps outside of MST3K in general. I think it just bothers me that they HAD the acting talent and budget and action chops and even a few interesting ideas but failed so badly at understanding their leads and putting together a coherent and compelling story. The wasted potential stings a lot.
(I never saw Suicide Squad, but thought Wonder Woman was great. Not perfect, but I enjoyed it loads)
Both these comments are my hot takes for the day
Yeah, it is actually a gift to have such a wide variety of Batman movies, that there is something for everyone. It would be lovely if more superheroes could get that opportunity, because there is such richness to the fact that we have so many opportunities.
Spider-Man comes close, but let down by the fact that the Amazing Spider-Man movies are pretty awful but almost any measure. You can make a case for the quality of any Batman movie, but I don’t think anyone wants to come out and defend the Amazing Spider-Man movies. And yet, the Amazing Spider-Man movies do attempt to provide a different approach. ANd more importantly, the difference between Raimi’s Spider-Man movies and Homecoming could be the building blocks for Spider-Man to get the same treatment as Batman (is Spider-Man more about the complex web of social relationships, like the Raimi movies, or the impossible challenge of growing up into the person/superhero you become)
And technically, Iron man has had two different versions (Iron Man’s cororate drama/romcom, or Iron Man Three’s techno noir mystery?) Captain America has had two different versions (pulp war story and political thriller), while Thor is about to get a second version in Ragnarok’s Heavy Metal Sci FI/Fantasy. As the MCU continues to expand, some of Marvel’s characters may get the richness in interpretation that Batman has.
Also, Spencer, completely agree with you about Batman Returns. As an adaption, it fails the fidelity test. But it is a sensational Tim Burton movie. Proof that sometimes, adaption is better if you don’t care about fidelity. Sometimes, take the story in your own direction, no matter what rules you break. And if it creates a better movie, you win. Batman Returns is a better movie than Batman, and who cares that it isn’t faithful. A great Tim Burton movie is worth more than an alright Batman movie. Same thing applies to the Dark Knight. Probably the best, and cares much more about being the best Nolan crime drama it can be
Batman and Robin is pretty perfect for what it is supposed to be. Is it silly? Is it campy? Yes. But that is a perfectly legitimate approach to Batman, and it does exactly what it is supposed to do. It is supposed to be silly, and scenes like the Bat Credit Card fit perfectly in the silly, ludicrous world invented by the movie. You just embrace the ludicrous nature, and enjoy it. It is always a good time, because it fully commits to being the campest, silliest thing it can be. By no means the best, but a movie I always enjoying watching for how well it does exactly what it wants to do.
Meanwhile, Batman Forever is a tonal disaster, unsure whether it wants to be a psychological study or a campy romp. Nothing really fits together, and the psychology stuff especially grates, unable to coexist with the campy world. And the attempts at emotional stakes become silly in the context of the movie’s tone, unlike Batman and Robin’s much simpler ‘Alfred may die’ story. While I watched Batman Returns the day before with the biggest smile as I realised I was watching something special, and Batman and RObin the day after laughing throughout, I just scowled throughout Batman Forever as it completely failed at every contradictory thing it tried to do.
And LEGO Batman is amazing, a pitch perfect parody of the worst excesses of the current popular versions of Batman. It takes the worst elements and shows us just how unpleasant and awful it actually is, while being the first movie to truly commit to the one key theme that had never fully been explored, family, to bring out Batman’s best qualities and prove just how important a degree of emotional intelligence is. Both a hilarious romp through the varied history of Batman and a powerful text critiquing the many versions of the Batman myth and on the dangers of getting lost in its worst excesses.
BvS is a mess. The story is a disaster, and it feels like a movie that has nothing but hatred for humanity. So much wrong about it, so little time to spend talking about it
And Superman isn’t a good book. It needs to stop relying of banal brutality and fridging to create stakes and cheap drama (especially in cases like the Multiversity storyline. Urgh). While All Star Batman hasn’t shown anything that actually inspires anything interesting
And regardless of how Batman is written in the War of Jokes and RIddles, the Joker was a complete mess last issue and the Riddler is even worse this issue. The motivations of everything is so messed up that any sense of stakes is ruined because nothing makes actual emotional sense
So you are praising batman and robin for not trying and having poorly written characters and story? For lego batman movie, Batman’s family has been explored before in film, specifically BvS does a great job with it. Lego Batman movie does not work for me, as many of the things it criticizes about Batman aren’t actually there, and have easy answers within the comics. Lego Batman’s characters also completely fail and spread false stereotypes about the characters. How do you think BvS is a mess? I’m willing to hear you out on this, but I think the film is phenomenal. And “movie has nothing but hatred for humanity”, you have to be joking. The film talks about how even if people fall,, they can still redeem themselves and do better. Batman says exactly this in his closing speech at the grave with diana, “Men are still good.” The film is a great character driven film with many well developed and realized characters, and the film has important sociopolitical themes about current society especially in America. There is tons of time to talk about it. With each viewing it gets better. I did an indepth review on it, and later i found more i could have added. I strongly suggest the scene by scene analysis of the film done by samuel . Finnaly, what do you mean that all star batman hasn’t shown anything that inspires anything interesting? I have read issues 1-7 and found them great. Im currently behind and need to catch up though
I think Batman and Robin works perfectly fine as a story. It makes sense, the characters are simple but work. Batman confronts the possible death of his father figure as the possibility of losing him. Robin is an immature idiot who learns the cost of his immaturity, grows up and understands his place in the team. Barbara struggles to find her place in the world and acts out, until she finds her place as Batgirl. Poison Ivy is a radical environmentalist who, after failing to achieve her goals legally, resorts to ecoterrorism. Mr Freeze is a man whose tragedy led him to crime, leaving him easily manipulated by Poison Ivy. Hardly the most complex characters, but functional. And not like the comics at all, but then the same can be said about great Batman movies like the Dark Knight or Batman Returns.
Which isn’t to say that Batman and Robin is a great movie. It isn’t (though the scene with ALfred discussing death actually is a great moment). But it does a pretty good job at what it tries to be, which is a silly superhero story that you can laugh at. You don’t watch it for the complex storytelling, you watch it to embrace the absurdity. For Poison Ivy doing a sexy striptease in a gorilla suit, for silly car chases on Gotham’s even sillier architecture, for plastic lips and Bat Credit Cards. FOr every Mr Freeze Ice pun. Everything is supposed to laughable – that’s the joke.
It isn’t a pure representation of Batman comics, nor a complex, deep narrative. But if you want to watch a superhero movie purely for humour, it is a great choice (though a better hcoice would be the 60s TV Show). You can call it ‘So Bad It’s Good’ if you like (I wouldn’t, because I think it is designed like it is for specifically that reason), but it is an entertaining, silly, funny piece of superhero fluff. Maybe you want to make the argument that it fails as a ‘Batman’ movie specifcally, but as a movie that is fun to watch and laugh at with a bunch of friends, it is a success.
With LEGO Batman, I think it is important to note that it is specifically about the movies and, more importantly, the culture. You are right that the comics have easy answers to everything the movie criticises, but that’s the point. That Batman’s movies/cultural footprint have completely failed to mine the comics enough, and how important it is to do so.
And I think a key part of the criticism of Batman is that it isn’t criticising Batman itself, but it is criticising one specific, particularly toxic group’s depiction of Batman. If you’ve ever heard the term ‘rabid Batfan’, you know who I’m talking about. The Batman in LEGO Batman is both the worst fan of Batman ever and an example of that worst’s fan depiction of Batman. And that’s the point. It goes ‘this is what some people think Batman is. Let’s show how ludricous it is, and show how much better the true Batman is, when we dig into the comics and find all the stuff people like to ignore’.
Before I explain my opinion on BvS, I don’t think I would say that BvS does a great job at showing the importance of family in Batman. While I will admit that the strongest scenes in the movie are when Bruce and Alfred share the scene (they provide the best performances in the movie by far), I don’t think it explores family a lot. You have the Waynes’ death, but that’s motivation. The way the Waynes’ death interacts with the importance of family is only when you explore how it influences Bruce’s dynamics with others in afamilial light. Otherwise, it is merely motivation for Batman’s quest for Justice/Vengeance/Whatever. And the Martha scene isn’t about family, it is about humanism, the universal similarities that lead to empathy (or, it tries to be). You have the dead Robin, but there is no exploration on who RObin is in the context of this Batman. From reading the comics, we can fill in the blacks. But family is not part of Batman’s story in BvS itself. THis isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, but I would argue that a movie like Batman Forever or Batman and Robin do a better case of showing the importance of family, and I hate Batman Forever.
With BvS, a big part of my issue with it is that despite Bruce’s line at the end that ‘Man is still Good’, it makes the case that we are out worst natures. Being a superhero is treated almost as ‘something people do’ than an act of goodness. Very little time is spent showign why Clark is Superman, or what it means to him. It never makes the case for Superman, but constantly argues that humanity doesn’t deserve him. It overreacts to the criticisms of Man of Steel so much that it almost feels like it believes that trying to stop Zod was itself a losing proposition. If you try and be a hero, you’ll become the villain. All is all, it seems show a Superman with very little invested in helping people. In fact, it almost feels it suggests that the tragedy of Superman is that he has to waste so much time saving our lives.
Meanwhile, the Batman sections fail to make the arc from fearful overreaction to investment in humanity. The fact that Batman is responsible for the deaths of multiple people, including, most importantly, several innocent people, is never properly contextualised. We have a Batman willing to murder and rampage to achieve his mission, and we are never meant to question it. He’s wrong to try and kill Superman, but the innocent in the car he rams, harpoons and uses as a weapon is never supposed to be discussed. The Martha scene fails, trying to have Batman realise the common humanity, but fails by going overly specific (everyone has mothers, but most aren’t called Martha. And because of that, it is hard to expand this to a general view of humanity). And then follows that up with an action scene heavily inspired by the Arkham games. And without the interactive element of the Arkham games, the more passive experience shows a scene so overly the top in brutality in feels sadistic. It doesn’t feel like a Batman who has regained his humanity, but a sadist.
And ultimately, a lot of it comes down to the fact that we have a movie where helping others is a suckers game. It never finds any great meaning in doing anything outside your own selfish desires, but every bad thing happens because people choose to help. If SUperman retired after Man of Steel, it feels like nothing would go wrong. It is a superhero movie all about the problems of being a superhero, but never about the value in humanity, or the value in being a superhero in the first place. If I have the time, I’ll try to see whether that scene by scene analysis changes my mind, but it would have to be a hell of a storng argument.
And All Star Batman just appears to be rote and obvious, after what Snyder has previously done. Where before, it was constantly surprising and exciting, nothing I’ve seen feels like Snyder truly commiting to the strengths that made his Detective COmics and Batman runs great. In the end, everything I’ve seen feels banal. Like Snyder on autopilot. Hell, the Ends of Earth storyline tries to keep the ultimate villain secret, before going for literally the most obvious choice. It feels like Snyder stripped of everything that makes his work great. I guess that makes it better than what Metal appears to be…
I’ve liked each of King’s Batman’s arcs better than the last, but there’s still something about the series that hasn’t clicked for me. It’s too cold and clinical I think — it was perfect for Vision, but it’s not working for Batman. Bruce and Selina are one of my OTPs, to use a term that embarrasses me greatly, but I can’t feel any passion from them under King’s pen, and that extends to most of the characters. I think there’s some really interesting ideas in this run, both character-wise and presentation-wise, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been fully satisfied with the execution.
Like most, I have a place in my heart for a series that strives for the stars even if it can’t quite reach them, but I’m generally happier with a series that can just put out consistently strong stories every issue. In that sense, I’d say that Green Lanterns, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, and especially Green Arrow (which has really come together in its second year after a more mixed first) are all stronger series than King’s Batman right now, and I certainly like Super Sons and Superman more (Sons is starting to grow right at the point where it needs to, and while Superman does some weird stuff plot-wise, I love its character work, which has edged into the sublime for me multiple times throughout its first two years).
I don’t think DC’s trying to be too ambitious right now, which is very likely a part of your current issues with them Matt, and certainly a valid one, but it’s interesting to me that their two (non-Young Animal/Wild Storm) series right now trying their hardest to be ambitious (Batman and All-Star Batman) aren’t coming together the way they should either. I like both creative teams, but I don’t know how much of that we can blame on DC as a entity, especially when they go out of their way to support Snyder’s ideas as much as possible (he’s definitely reached that “publisher will let them do anything they want” point in his career, and I hope that doesn’t negatively effect his work the way it did to Johns and Bendis when they reached that stage).
(Actually, Deathstroke may be the most successfully ambitious thing DC is putting out right now. I read a few issues catching up on Titans the other day and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked them after not caring for the first few issues. I need to go back and try it from scratch.)
If I was going to have OTPs (I try to keep my options open and be welcome to any new possibilities. Don’t want to be the guy complaining about how, say, Selina/Eiko doesn’t fit my ship instead of exploring the possibilities), Bruce and Selina would be one of them. But haven’t seen a single thing that feels like an attempt to explore that relationship, instead of what that relationship means to Bruce. The story is only going to work if Selina is an actual character, someone with her own wants and needs outside of being Bruce’s love interest.
And from everything I’ve seen, I would certainly disagree with the comment that any of your alternatives are good (though I’ve seen little Green Arrow and Super Sons). Green Lanterns feels like it is such a throwback to very old school Green Lantern that it is struggling to find an identity now that Johns did so much to evolve the franchise, while Hal Jordan (admittedly, the Green/Yellow Alliance is the rare new idea in Rebirth, though the fact that they are also removing a hell of a lot of interesting stuff being done before Rebirth, including the incredibly, impossibly fucking stupid idea to make Kyle a Green Lantern again. How did they possibly justify something so stupid) is struggling under a spectacular lack of ambition, ultimately doing very little. And Superman seems too trapped in crass tropes around violence and fridging. The Multiversity arc in particular is an insult, as a crass reminder of the horrid philosophies that have underpinned Rebirth since the beginning.
And I’ve got a feeling DC aren’t too happy with Metal. I think they view it as an obligation, but don’t think they are happy about it. The whole way they seem to be approaching it makes me think they just want it over. I don’t think Snyder is getting the right sort of support from DC, which is worrying. Like Bendis, Snyder should be gone and writing books like American Vampire and Wytches. It is long since time for him to commit himself fully to his own work. I don’t think we should be waiting for Snyder to stumble on the equivalent of Riri Williams, where Bendis has been given the perfect opportunity to return to the roots that made him great (there is a hell of a lot of Ultimate Spiderman in Invincible Iron Man. Big reason why I think it is his best ongoing in… forever. Unlike everything else, which does not play to Bendis’ strengths at all). King probably needs more time to pay his dues, but if there was any justice, he would be able to do his own thing, instead of doing franchise management of a major character.
But the core is that more and more, this idea of consistent repetition tires me. It is why I get harsher and harsher with Marvel movies when, unlike GOTG 2, they fail at pushing themselves. And combine that with Rebirth’s consistent story problems and their consistent bigotry (Justice League of America seems to be a book dedicated to promoting Trump dogwhistles, and we can’t forget that the very first thing Rebirth did was vindicate every racist that ever complained about the casting of actors like Idris Elba and Michael B Jordan as Heimdal and Johnny Storm), and it is impossible to think of a defence. Outside of the batshit family drama of Deathstroke… DC is a disaster
I’ve mostly liked Superman and Action. I’m not a Superman guy at all, but I’ve enjoyed both stories. I get confused as to which is which at times, but I’ve (surprisingly to me) enjoyed Clark as a father and I really like how they’re portraying Superboy. It all hasn’t been great, but it’s pretty consistent. I’ve liked it better than everything else in DC with the possible exception of Wonder Woman (which was very, very good for 24 issues).
I’m also getting caught up on Green Lantern. I dropped it after issue 8 or so. I liked the first arc, but wasn’t keen on the back to back slice of life issues (the halloween and dealing with parents or in laws or something, I forget). I got through Phanton Lantern and the Batman team up and the JL issue and (through 17 or 18 somewhere) and I’ve enjoyed them again. I actually really liked a couple of the issues. I struggled with the anxiety stuff early on, but I think they’ve really given both characters some interesting things to deal with and I’m on board.
I’ve got a run of about 15 or 20 of the HJ and Green Lantern Corps, but haven’t had a chance to look into it.
I have tried all the Batman titles now and have dropped all of them. I tried the Titans titles but those didn’t hook me. Didn’t care for Hellblazer either, and I really, really tried there. I found Deathstroke 1 to be unreadable, just ugly and… man, I don’t know how to describe it other than that. It read ugly.
But I’ve liked the Super titles and I’m enjoying Green Lanterns with Simon and Jessica.
Superman seems like it enjoys using crass, pointless brutal tropes for no real reason. Seems too obsessed with the necessary to prove how dark it can get, it seems. WHile also appearing to have some really messed up messaging at times. And then the Multiversity arc comes and really shows just how low things can go.
And everything I’ve seen of Action Comics is boring and banal, excpet for the issue where Clark and Lois cover up a woman’s death so that they can steal her life for no morally defensible reason.
And honestly, the fact that it seems they still haven’t ‘fixed’ Superman after all the convoluted and stupid stuff they’ve done is a problem, especially when the real fix was actually just good writing. Instead, we have blasting women’s legs off and killing the gay guy for cheap drama.
Wonder Woman is disqualified from any conversation about quality by the indefensible shit that has happened behind the scenes. DC have used Wonder Woman to exploit marginalised populations, and this was AFTER they threw a woman off the book after she wrote several issues because she refused to work alongside a confirmed, known sexual harrasser. That felt giving it to a male writer who had already had his chance was a better move. It was horrifying to see Rebirth’s subtext become behind the scenes text, adn DC can go fuck themselves for everything involved in this book. Rucka is the only writer who I have lost respect for because of Rebirth, and currently, he can go fuck himself as well
Green Lanterns appears to lack… well, the heart that made Weirdworld work. I guess it appears to be trying, but everything I’ve seen feels trapped by convention. Honestly, it feels like a book that suffers from the Rebirth mandate. A book whose need to be a throwback in a way that just hurts, and the need to just push these characters away from the ‘real’ Green Lantern stories. But ultimately, it seems to be missing the alchemy that made Weirdworld a good book
I really want to love DC Comics again. Hell, I’ve brought up Deathstroke a lot as the sole book that DC does worth reading, because I really want Retcon Punch to actually cover it.
But DC Rebirth promised boring and bad storytelling, and all sorts of bigotry. And with the exception of Deathstroke (and King’s Batman, kind of. It seems like as soon as David Finch leaves the book, King has an interesting story worth telling that spectacularly fails, like this), at best, DC don’t seem to offer anything more than banal mediocrity. And that’s at best, consdiering how the regressive a lot of the storytelling approaches, based more on appealing to crass nostalgia that storytelling fundamentals. Even tings like characterization are no longer important DC, often. And then, far too often, it does something offensive and stupid. And unlike Marvel, it lacks the sort of books that act as a counterweight to DC’s near constant fuck ups (and when you publish Justice League of America, each arc taking a Trump talking point and going ‘you know what, he’s right’, you need a fucking lot of good stuff to counterbalance the awfulness).
I read the latest DC Solicitations today, because I look forward to the day I can read them and feel something other than boredom or the need to slam my head against hte wall. But DC Rebirth promised banality, regressive storytelling, sexism, racism adn homophobia, and sadly, they are living up to the promise. Quite simply, DC are the company who spent the first two pages of their relaunch vindicating everyone who had ever sent a hateful tweet harrassing people because Michael B Jordan was cast as the HUman Torch, because nostalgia was important than storytelling.
I’d love to hear a case for why Rebirth is good, btu every case I’ve read has failed to persuade me. Nor has anyone’s response to me ever made a case good enough to change my mind (in fact, looking through the site for a specific comment of mine, it seems to be a couple too many responses to me that are, essentially… Rebirth is entirely middle of the line, boring books. Which is the whole problem.
DC don’t want to write quality books, so I don’t want to read them. Hope they fix it soon, especially the bigotry problem
I’m not going to get terribly deep here, but I’m looking back at Superman in Rebirth:
1-6: Eradicator: I liked most of the Superboy stuff in this arc, I was confused by what Eradicator was and did, but I thought most of it was fun if confusing.
7-9: Fair and Dinosaur Island: Great comics
10:11: Superboy and Damian: I didn’t like these as much as others, but again, fun.
12-13: Frankenstein: More Frankenstein in DC is almost always a good decision
14-16: Multiplicity: I didn’t much like these
17 was a one shot that was fine, 18-19 were the Action crossover which was mediocre (in as much as I hardly remember it). This stretch of 14-19 were the weakest part of this run.
20-25: Black Dawn. I liked these. Another super-villain I didn’t know first, but I liked it.
This has mostly set up Superman as a Hamilton farmer and established his family. It’s had great portrayals of him as a father, which is normally something I don’t get in to. I guess I don’t find it having “crass, pointless brutal tropes” but instead about being “How can I be a dad and a Superman at the same time” or “How can I be a boy and Superboy at the same time” or “How do I hold my Superfamily together”.
Which I have found mostly enjoyable. It’s been a pretty solid run for a year now. There were a couple of misses right in the middle, but I’m a fan, and I haven’t been a Superman fan ever. So they’re doing something right at least for me.
Action: The Lois stuff in here for a while was messed up and unappealing. Undeniable.
957-962: Path to Doom. I liked this stuff. I honestly was curious as to the “Who is this Clark Kent” mystery.
963-966: Who is Clark Kent/Back in the Planet. Umm, I don’t really remember these and not going to look them up.
967-972: Men of Steel. I think this whole arc balanced on “Can I/we/Supes trust Luthor” which is risky but it worked. I liked these stories.
973-974: More Clark stuff that gets uncomfortable. I guess that’s good but I didn’t like these issues as much.
975-978: This resolves the Clark stuff which was… again just fine I guess. There were some cool parts, but it was a villain I don’t really get in to very much.
979 – present: Revenge: These have been very good so far. I like the bad guys, I like the Super-team up, I liked the cliffhanger last issue…
Again, the Lois stuff was fucked up, but the rest of the comics have been mostly compelling and examples of well done Superman stories (to me). Superman has been top notch comics the past year, and they’ve done it whlie putting out Superman or Action EVERY WEEK. It’s been a good year of Superman.
I’m not sure you’ve done a good job in describing any of those books as anything other than middle the line books, which is a real problem when I’m currently considering going through my Marvel pulls to purge every book that is middle of the line. Not because they are bad books. They are good books, that are every so often amazing. And yet I end up finding it frustrating to read them every month and they are never as good as I want them to be.
And yet the argument is that I should read books like Superman that are just as middle of the road, except instead of having amazing highs every so often, I get horrific lows. Covering up deaths, pointless brutality and fridging, the Mutliversity arc, the crappy mess of retcons and nostalgia of the Superman Reborn crossover.
That’s a massiv eproblem. Rebirth, at its best, is good enough. The sort of thing that grinds you down when you’d rather read stronger books. And a lot of the time, it isn’t. Because everything they promised, except optimism, is being delivered. And what they promised was a vision of comics that was awful
At its best, Rebirth is releasing the sort of book I am struggling to find the will to slog through when I could focus on better books. And Rebirth is always finding new ways to prove that they are far more committed to their vision of awfulness. Their vision of bigotry and nostalgia.
I mean, were it not for the fact it is a trainwreck, at least Tom King’s Batman is tries to do something other than Rebirth’s turgid slog through shit.
Otherwise, have DC done literally anything to suggest that they value strong storytelling over bigoted nostalgia? Because fundamentally, it is the rotten heart that infects literally everything but Deathstroke. THis guiding principle that DC’s work should represent the least of what comics can be
Yeah, I’m not trying to convince you to read Superman or Action or Wonder Woman. I have better walls to beat my head against. But I have not once felt that I was reading bigoted nostalgia hidden (or in plain sight) in my comics. I’ve lived in Richmond, VA. I *know* bigoted nostalgia. I’ve (oh so foolishly) read the comments about the new Star Trek: Discovery. I’ve read bigoted nostalgia.
This modern era of Superman seems fresh and new – a desire to show Superman as a family man. It could be that I’m not a long time Superman fan, so I missed all this in the 60s or 80s or 00s, but it’s always a bit weird to me when I read your comments calling what I like to be bigoted. It’s weird and offputting and I just don’t see it most of the time.
and Wonder Woman just finished a good year. It was a good comic. Did Rucka say stupid shit? I don’t know, I don’t go looking for Rucka interviews, but you seem to think so. Hacksaw Ridge was a good movie in spite of Mel Gibson being a tool. Wonder Woman was a good comic this year no matter what DC or Rucka or anyone else said about it before or during its run.
In these times of Trump, often bigotry can be very obvious. But there are so many subtler ways. And DC Rebirth is flooded with them. I mean, it literally signifies the ending of the previous era through the murder of a woman. For example
In the first few pages of the main book, DC reintroduced Wally West, in one of the most racist acts of DC history. First, it rendered a black superhero illegimate. Despite the fact that they had already reintroduced Wally West, they declared he didn’t count because he was black. THey did make the black Wally West Kid Flash BUT ultimately what they did was make a very clear distinction between the ‘real’ Wally West and the ‘Other’ Wally West. And the black one is very clearly made the other. And one important thing to note is that this is Wally West. Sam Wilson, for example, will never be seen as the legitimate Captain America, which is not good. But, Sam Wilson is always be the legitimate Falcon, and the legitimate Sam Wilson. That makes things better. The black Wally West doesn’t even get that. The black Wally West, by virtue of his skin colour, is now defined by his illegitimacy of every aspect of his identity. He is now defined primarily by ‘not being the white guy’
Even worse, this choice has horrific implications when placed alongside the current fan culture. Actors like Idris Elba, Michael B Jordan and Tessa Thompson have all suffered racist harassment due to playing characters that, in the comics, were originally white. To justify their racism, these ‘fans’ use the bullshit argument of ‘We want the REAL Heimdall/Human Torch/Valkeryie’. DC justifies this argument by taking one of the rare examples of such a change happening in comics and saying ‘he’s not the real Wally West’. ‘If DC said the black Wally West isn’t the real one, then surely the same must be said about every other race change?’, the racists now think. They are now vindicated and strengthened, and will be even stronger when it comes to the inevitable casting of Wally West in the DCEU.
And honestly, the idea of PoC superheroes inherently being the illegitimate version of the superhero is throughout the one shot. When Ryan Choi is introduced, he is specifically introduced at the same time as the also missign white version of the Atom, Ray Palmer. And more importantly, the scene is designed to position Ray Palmer as the real Atom. Only Ray gets to wear the uniform, while Ryan is depicted as merely an ordinary person. ANd more importantly, the story told isn’t ‘Ryan Choi becomes the Atom’, but ‘Ryan Choi must save the Atom’. The Asian guy isn’t the Atom, only the helper
And Jamie Reyes is even worse. Both of these characters are being reintroduced after being in limbo, but the scene focuses on Ted. Jamie exists only as an extension of Ted. The true focus is that Ted is back. Jamie doesn’t even get to be there for the whole scene. Which is especially important because of Doctor Fate’s appearance. Doctor Fate (he does not have the build for the new, recently introduced Egyptian Doctor Fate, because DC Rebirth can’t have a dirty PoC Doctor Fate. Let the PoC disappear, so the white guy can return) appears to rewrite the Blue Beetle mythos in basically the by the book definition of bigoted nostalgia. By stating that it is actually magic, DC is throwing away literally every piece of lore developed as part of Jamie Reyes’ story to return the lore to the state it was when white guys held the scarab. And there are many problems with this scene, most notably that Jamie wasn’t even allowed in the scene that rewrote his mythology. But it is more than that. The genius of what Giffen and Rogers did when they developed the Blue Beetle lore with Jamie was they managed to transform the Blue Beetle story into a story built around PoC. To put it another way, while no amount of Sam Wilson issues of Captain America will change the fact that the Captain America books are centred around Steve Rogers, Giffen and Rogers made the Blue Beetle franchise centred around Jamie. The previous Blue Beetles were essentially turned into backstory/supporting cast. The proof is in the adaptions. Smallville used Jamie for their Blue Beetle. But more importantly, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Young Justice: Invasion used Jamie, and very specifically used the very same lore that placed Jamie at the lead of the Blue Beetle mythology (the Reach). Jamie has been stripped of everything that made him important so that white guys like Dan Garret and Ted Kord could be more important again.
Wonder Woman, a character whose fundamental essence is connected to the idea of purely female influence, is revealed to have a twin brother. Apparently, the thing missing in Wonder Woman was more male influence
The Green Arrow/Black Canary scene, other than being the worst written part of an issue that is generally pretty rottenly written (No matter how little sense the Barry brings Wally back but Linda can’t bullshit makes, nothing is worse than writing a scene about love where the only reason given is ‘fate/destiny/this is what it is supposed to be’), ultimately cannot escape the toxic power dynamics of such a nostalgic plot point. Because quite simply, you can’t ignore the fact that this scene is all about the need to return to a time where Black Canary was, essentially, reduced to being nothing other than Green Arrow’s love interest. If you follow Black Canary through her history, what has often happened is that while she’s a great character by herself, whenever she’s with Green Arrow, she’s often reduced to merely a love interest and even a damsel in distress. But ignoring historical context, the power dynamic is uneven. Because Green Arrow gets his own book,while Black Canary is only allowed to be supporting players in other people’s books. Or the fact that this was clearly done due to valuing the ‘needs’ of the male character over the female character (especially when you remember that Black Canary’s book was quite popular among her base.)
It is small, but let’s bring it up anyway because it is demonstrative. White Wally West, who has, as one of his most important attributes, a love for his wife, Korean-American Linda Park, so strong that whenever he is lost in the Speed Force, he will always find his way back to her solely through the power of their love for each other. It is the fundamental truth of Wally West. Here, the love between Wally and Linda is not enough, but the love between Wally and Barry is. The relationship between the two white guys is more powerful/important than the relationship between the white guy and the Asian woman, despite the fact that, again, Wally and Linda’s love is supposed to be so powerful that they will always find each other no matter how lost in the Speed Force Wally gets.
And please note that this is only focusing on Nostalgic Bigotry, and I’m not mentioning the general ways crass nostalgia is used to create an awful, nostalgic circlejerks that smother storytelling (if you want a clue to what the big problem with Superman, the solution to bad Superman stories is writing good Superman stories, not killing off Superman, replacing him with a parallel version you are nostalgic for and then undertaking an elaborate, stupid retcon to declare that the one you want is the true Superman after all, and all the stuff you disapproved of, like his relationship with Wonder Woman, never happened, who cares about the people who actually liked it)
And this is just the initial one shot. And basically every part of it is all about how much more important the white male characters are over any character that is PoC/female/both. At literally every point, white men a stated to be more important than any other type of character. This is textbook bigotry, even if it is a bit more subtle than most. Hell, this is just a brief overview, ignoring certain sections I could really dig in and develop, because these are the most obvious problems.
And this shit isn’t just in the Rebirth one shot. It is all over the actual line itself. I don’t have time to write about all the rest of DC’s books right now (it takes research, and I have work and a FIlm Festival to deal with), but I’ll write up another post of the rest of DC’s line. Because unfortunately, the one shot is exactly what DC Rebirth is. Which makes DC’s output undefendable
Oh, and there is a reason that so much of the conversation around Hacksaw Ridge ended up discussing Mel Gibson as a person (in this case, his relationship to religion). Because ultimately, who you are affects what you make. So avoiding shitty people’s work actually comes out for the best. And even ignoring that, I have so, so much other stuff I could read instead of work or watch that lets me support people who aren’t doing shitty stuff, like what Rucka and DC did with respect to Wonder Woman
I’m gonna go ahead and say that whatever happens in a big stupid event book is a terrible way to judge an entire publishing line. I can’t really refute any of what you’re saying but I’m also only reading DC books that aren’t affected by any of that. Batgirl is still kicking it in Burnside (and has turned to address gentrification), Green Lanterns (a book following two POC leads) is still about the adventures of space cops, Gotham Academy is still a goofy Scooby-Doo romp (though the stakes have definitely been raised). Ultimately, I think books should be judged on their own merits, not our perceptions of the publisher’s goals based on a single one shot. I’m definitely reading fewer DC books in the wake of Rebirth, but that seems to be mostly in keeping with my declining interest in the line before Rebirth. Maybe some books are bad because of Rebirth, but I absolutely reject the notion that all of the books are bad because of it. It was a big dumb event issue. Let’s move on already.
Except it isn’t just one issue. This shit keeps happening.
Of course, it didn’t begin with Rebirth (good beginnings include the Finchs’ Wonder Woman and Valentine leaving Catwoman), but DC has had a horrific turning point. And Rebirth acted as a great signpost that really demonstrated that shift (in fact, it is also worth mentioning that DC’s events have always been more meta than Marvel’s, by virtue of having their first event be Crisis on Infinite Earths instead of Secret Wars. Nearly every major DC event, especially Crises like Rebirth, are about ‘What is DC supposed to be?’. Which is why the average DC event retcons half the universe to the point that we split up DC into eras defined by the last major event (Post-Crises, Post-Zero Hour, Post-Infinite Crisis, Post-Flashpoint/New 52, Rebirth))
I also think, Drew, you ignore the importance of what a specific choice for the line has on the line. Individual stories aren’t independent of each other. We can’t just say ‘DC Rebirth was a bigoted piece of garbage and in a just world, everyone would have taken Geoff Johns up on his promise to refund anyone unhappy, but that doesn’t matter for DC as a whole’. Just as an issue is defined by the choices the creative team makes, a publishing line is defined by the choices the editorial make.
For example, the reason that the big three heroes of Marvel have all been replaced by more diverse replacements is a specific choice by Marvel creative. Remender, Aaron and Bendis had the original ideas, but they had to pitch and get approved. And when it came to Bendis’ turn, the fact that Marvel said ‘Yes, let’s introduce Riri Williams’ instead of saying ‘we are telling similar stories with Captain America and Thor, and don’t want to tell that story now’ is a choice that can be used to critique Marvel across the line (For example: While Riri Williams shows Marvel’s current commitment to deepening their franchises through the introduction of new characters, and the choice to make her Ironheart instead of Iron Man shows a Marvel grappling with the need to make permanent changes to the universe to create diversity, the choice to do so at the same time as Jane Foster and Sam Wilson may have frustrated change-averse fans to the point that it hurt Marvel’s ability to create what could have been the easiest, yet most important long term change – a permanent sharing of the Captain America duties between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson). Or how the impact of publishing of Batgirl of Burnside, Valentine’s Catwoman and Gotham by Midnight on DC’s line are not independent of each other, but a specific choice by then new Batman editor Mark Doyle. When discussing the effect on the line, you can’t just say ‘it is just one comic’, because you also have to explore the context around the comic being produced. DC decided to release DC Rebirth as the statement of purpose of their high profile relaunch. The fact that something that bigoted was approved for the most important issue in years matters.
Because it does matter. The bigotry didn’t begin and end with the one shot.
The Batman books have TWICE taken a queer woman known for her independence and wrecked the very supporting casts that allows her to be independent, so that their story can revolve all around the straight, male Batman instead
The main Batman book seems to want to give Batman an important romance story without doing anything to make Selina an equal partner, while Detective Comics seems to being reducing its female characters to their relationships to men, butchering their character in the process.
Superman enjoys the use of brutality on marginalised characters for false drama, killing Red Racer and brutally showing the dismemberment and pain of Lois Lane. THe Red Racer one especially hurts, riffing on a story all around the value of diversity and preaching the opposite, creating a version of Multiversity built entirely around the straight white Superman and treating female or black as variations deserving the same respect as demon.
Meanwhile, Superwoman got jerked around by editorial because, essentially, DC didn’t want to treat this book with respect and screwed it over as part of their Superman plans. The writer left because the editorial did not care about the needs of a female driven book.
The Green Lantern books seem to have taken the position of having a ‘true’ Green Lantern book, which contains all the elements that Johns used to turn the mythos from a minor book to one of DC’s major franchises, and then sentenced every PoC character they could get away with away from that book to the ‘lesser’ book that lacks those elements (you may think this is unfair, because this is relatively minor. In all honesty, it is the sort of thing I would happily ignore were it not for the fact that, in the context of everything else, it fits the pattern). The true issue with Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corp, though, comes down to its approach with Kyle Rayner. Despite the fact that making Kyle the White Lantern perfectly solved the issue of ‘What do we do with Kyle now that Hal is back’, that acknowledged Kyle’s importance in the Green Lantern mythos while letting Hal be the main character again, this has been removed so that there is literally no doubt that the white man is the single, greatest, most important character in the Green Lantern mythos. AND they make a point to erase the first story in years to actually address Kyle Rayner’s Hispanic heritage,
The Titans franchise has pushed out every new character created recently in order to make things more diverse, so that the franchise can essentially be lily white. Oh, and guess which character in Titans was chosen to be the one that had their mind broken as the team victim? The sole black person.
Justice League of America seems dedicated to Trump apologia. The first arc’s villain was basically what you would get if you asked Nigel Farage what the European Union was like, but that would be forgivable were it not for the next two arcs. The second arc is dedicated the favourite excuse given to Trump voters and justifying it. While the third arc justifies fear of outsiders/refugees. THis is supposed to be DC’s socially conscious book, but while Occupy Avengers and Sam Wilson explore topics like the Flint Water Crisis or Police brutality, JLA has positioned its next to hateful bigots.
And then there is Wonder Woman. A book that begun its life by throwing the female writer off after she wrote several scripts, because DC would rather have a known sexual harasser work on Wonder Woman than a woman. ANd then, instead of giving the book to a woman, they gave it to a man WHO HAD ALREADY HAD HIS CHANCE. Under Rebirth, men are getting a second chance before women get their first. And then, DC exploits queer communities in to get credit for progressive actions that they have no plans to do. Because, of course, the behind the scenes of Rebirth matches the books themselves
The bigotry is everywhere, and it is wrong to dismiss it. And I don’t want to support DC if this is what they are doing. Especially when they combine that with their truly noxious use of nostalgia (I saw a couple of pages of Batgirl, and the book seems utterly dedicated to burning everything Batgirl of Burnside did to the ground. I think Batgirl is the one book I’ve seen that actively insults the previous run, so it can return to the good ‘ol days). Or the fact that Green Lanterns just… doesn’t look good. WHat I’ve seen suggests it has a bit of an identity crisis, and feels much closer to Starlord Sam Humphries than Weirdworld Sam Humphries. And I wasn’t a fan of his work on Starlord.
I’ve been trying to find a particular comment of mine on this site where I went through a bunch of Rebirth, and keep finding other comments I’ve made where I made positive comments about a specific DC book, only to have it blow up in my face. I’ve tried putting my hope on so many books, only for them to disappoint as the current DC does the same horrible stuff again and again. Should I even be trying to say nice things about Deathstroke, or will that eventually disappoint like everything else I’ve mentioned? Should I hope Gotham Academy hasn’t gone to shit, because I haven’t seen anything about Gotham Academy since I dropped DC?
Want to know what is truly the worst part? Do you know how many discussions I’ve seen online that eventually end up with a bigot discussing how Rebirth is the perfect response to Marvel’s ‘SJWness’. And I’m not even talking about discussions where DC are even mentioned. A bunch of critics can be harshly criticising the optics of releasing Secret Empire in today’s time, and it ends up with racists interrupting to talk about how Rebirth is better because of it is racist.
That is what is real heartbreaking. Seeing these people so happy that DC is so racist
I guess I feel like the widow you’re making these judgements on are largely arbitrary. Honestly, I’m not sure Rucka’s statements on Wonder Woman matter now that he’s no longer on the series, but I definitely think dismissing the current run because of creators that haven’t worked on it in years is absurd. Because, yeah, obviously if you dig far enough back into the history of any comics series, you’re going to find bigotry. It was an industry dominated by white men for basically its entire history. If we can look past that to enjoy how, say, Black Widow is being treated now, I think we can do the same for DC books.
Again, I’m not going to defend the whole line — I’m not reading most of it — but to say the current Wonder Woman run MUST be bigoted because of editorial decisions made one, two, five years ago completely ignores the autonomy of the creative team. Obviously, they’re not “autonomous,” but refusing to check out a series from creators you have no grievances with because they happen to be working on a series formerly helmed by creators you do have grievances with makes no sense. Like, I get not wanting to support Roc Uprich once his domestic violence charges were known, but refusing to buy Rat Queens after he’s off of it simply because of the association seems pointless.
And I get that you’re objecting to editorial decisions more than individual creators, but I’m not sure how DC can never make it up to you if you’re unwilling to check in on comics you might actually like (and unwilling to financially encourage the editorial decisions you approve of). I think a lot of Rebirth is dumb, but that’s not going to stop me from supporting Gotham Academy, the one book I know of that is completely untouched by Rebirth — if anything, distaste for Rebirth as a whole should encourage me to double down on my support for Gotham Academy.
We’ve both agreed that whatever problems are plaguing DC started before Rebirth, and while I get that Rebirth may have codified those problems into some kind of mission statement, I ultimately think the individual series sink or swim on their own merits. If there were series that was good in spite of DC’s editorial policies before Rebirth, that will still be the case after Rebirth. Maybe that mission statement jazz is enough for you to dismiss those good series, but I honestly don’t think there’s enough good comics that we can refuse to support them because of a grudge against their publisher.
Sure, DC editorial has made some shitty decisions recently. They’ve also made them less recently, going all the way back to the very earliest days of the company. Same with Marvel. And any other comics publisher. The only voice we as consumers have is supporting the good decisions and disavowing the bad ones. I just think you could be a bit finer grained in distinguishing between the two.
The seeds were planted years ago, but it is with Rebirth that things fully grew into a tree. It used to be, after DC had crawled out of the problems with early New 52, that stuff like the Finch’s Wonder Woman were a minority, while there was a much stronger movement being lead by stuff like Batgirl of Burnside that did the exact opposite. That’s why the argument that DC’s previous series were good in spite of editorial is a false one. Even though the horrors of Rebirth were slowly growing, there was other forces that were more dominant. The simple fact is, the same forces that meant creators could create books like Batgirl of Burnside or Grayson or Prez are simply missing. What used to be a dark side slowly growing power is now the dominant ideology of DC.
And to say that a new creative team means a fresh start ignores the fact that the one constant in every creative team is DC Editorial. Editorial will always be there, and they are important. To use a positive example, the reason Victor Manchez was used in the Vision, as opposed to Jim Hammond, was because Marvel Editorial informed King about the character, and by working together, they concluded that Victor would have been a much more interesting choice. Editorial matters, even on the day to day creative choices. And despite the fact that Rucka has left Wonder Woman, this doesn’t change the fact that the editorial that condoned his comments and refused to correct the record so they could instead exploit it instead. Or that Robinson’s upcoming run seems to have its own problems. Or the fact that DC’s line as a whole are full of similar problems.
To make the comparison with Roc Uprich, DC Editorial is Uprich in this scenario. And while of course DC editorial are never going to leave DC’s book, there needs to be an act of contrition. I doubt that they will ever admit fault, but they need to make some sort of clear shift away from the shit that they are producing. Some sign they are actually invested in correcting Rebirth’s sins.
Because the problem is, I can’t trust anything out of DC right now. Literally any book could be struck with these problems. It isn’t a case of just reading Gotham Academy, because every time I’m expressed a little bit of hope from something out of DC, something goes wrong. Yeah, Marvel have made shitty decisions lately, but so far, they are generally doing the right thing, or at the very least trying unsuccessfully to do the right thing (though we will see what Marvel Legacy brings). So it is easy to support them.
I am doing everything I can to support what I want to see, and I do that by supporting Marvel and Independent comics. But while DC is fundamentally untrustworthy, there is no ‘good comics’ to support. Again and again, I’ve seen a comic that looks like it is doing the right thing, and decided to adopt a wait and see approach. And it blows up in my face. And any comic that I can’t put a modicum of trust in isn’t good
I keep my eye on the news, and see scans of pages. I’m eagerly awaiting the point where DC is trustworthy again. While Metal unfortunately looks to be utter crap, Dark Matter feels like it could be the first steps in the right direction (emphasis on could. I’ve heard rumbling of problems). But there needs to be much more than just Dark Matter. And when DC have made it up for me, that change will be reflected by what I see online. And then, I will happily start reading DC again.
But when the problems are so expansive and when DC is currently so fundamentally untrustworthy, all I can do is wait